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Prior Knowledge

Monday, August 15, 2005

Trust and paternalism

The distinction between moral and nonmoral paternalism is as Richard puts it:
"I take it the idea is that moral paternalism goes against the person's own values, whereas non-moral paternalism does not."
Are seatbelt laws the latter? Richard says "Someone might really dislike helmets, or not want to mess up his carefully styled hair whenever he cycles. To force him to wear a helmet anyway would thus seem to be a case of forcing values upon him that he does not share." I think this would be a case of MORAL paternalism. So, one and the same law could be moral paternalism towards some people and non-moral towards others. Towards the latter it is more justified, but some way would have to be found to exempt the former. If there is no way, or there is but its too cumbesome or expensive to implement then maybe the paternalism is justified anyway - but then the justification would be that moral paternalism towards a few is justified because of the gains from nonmoral paternalism towards the many.

Richard also asks whether the case where I force my friend into art galleries actually a case of non-moral paternalism? "Perhaps we assume that our friend shares our values..." This is possible of course, but again the friend may not share our values. It might be precisely because he does not value art that i decide forcing him is the only way to show him what he's missing out on. It seems to me that Raz is right that a friend so forcing is more acceptable than government doing so, but that if it were non-moral paternalism e.g due to weakness of the will, government action would be more acceptable.

Richard says: "The strongest argument against paternalism comes from the value of autonomy, of course. But if we set that aside, surely the only other grounds for opposing it are utilitarian."
I think the autonomy argument is over-rated, partly because autonomy is such a slippery concept. Why is autonomy so valuable? Are we just to take it as a fixed point that autonomy is a fundamental value? Seems to me that autonomy has to be the conlcusion of an argument rather than a premise.

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  • "one and the same law could be moral paternalism towards some people and non-moral towards others."

    That's a good point, and does help to clear up some of my confusion. Though I'm still not entirely clear on what it means to go against a person's values, in this context. Presumably this isn't the same as forcing them to do something they don't want to -- for that would implicate all paternalism. Is it instead a violation of what the person would reflectively endorse? (As argued in my previous post, this yields the interesting result that subjectivist theories of wellbeing entail that moral paternalism cannot possibly be successful.) Or is there some alternative analysis I haven't thought of?

    "It might be precisely because he does not value art that i decide forcing him is the only way to show him what he's missing out on."

    Yeah, but I would understand that as a situation where you were merely bringing out values or dispositions that were already latent in your friend. I've written a bit more about this sort of stuff here. There's a neat quote from Railton which I think captures the idea quite nicely:

    "Of course, as a fool I have no antecedent desire identifiable as a desire to lead a more reflective or more Socratic life. But, if my motivational set contained no potential positive sentiment that could be 'recruited by' the information I gain about the Socratic life, then how could my novel exposure to the Socratic have any tendency to engage me...?"

    8/15/2005 08:17:00 PM  

  • Does anyone else have concerns about the demarcation of moral from non-moral paternalism, or is it just me? (If it seems straightforward to everyone else, perhaps someone could explain it to me...)

    8/27/2005 02:36:00 PM  

  • I think autonomy is over rated because I dont think there is really such a thing. You are the result of your environment and the absence of one influence is he presence of another. What we can consider however is the "freedom to" concept of richards (ok I guess he didnt invent it but since he is famous I will reference him) in as far as this is a way to maximise good things and has any value in itself.
    Ie a certain act of paternalism might increace "freedom to" even if that freedom isn't really autonomous (by this I mean acting independantly and without control/influence).

    10/20/2005 10:05:00 PM  

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